3.4.6 Child Criminal Exploitation
NOTE: Additional local information will be added at the next update of the procedures.This chapter was added to the manual in October 2019.
Child Criminal Exploitation (CCE) involves the targeted use of children in criminal activity. It can involve the exploitation of children and young people (aged under 18 years) in the storage, distribution and selling of illegal drugs, under violent coercion or exploited through the use of debt, or promise of cash or drugs. Patterns of grooming behaviour by adults can be seen to be similar to those associated with sexual exploitation (CSE). There will be a power imbalance and children and young people should not be viewed as at fault, 'choosing a lifestyle' or making an informed choice.
Criminal exploitation is not restricted to drugs; some children are transporters of cash as well as firearms and weapons, and are coerced into carrying out theft and burglaries. Many children and young people subject to CCE are exploited by criminal gangs. A gang is considered to be a relatively durable, predominantly street-based group of young people who (1) see themselves (and are seen by others) as a discernible group, (2) engage in a range of criminal activity and violence, (3) identify with or lay claim over territory, (4) have some form of identifying structural feature, and (5) are in conflict with other, similar, gangs (Dying to Belong 2009: Centre for Social Justice).
Children and young people involved in criminal exploitation are often sent to differing locations within the United Kingdom to carry out tasks for gangs, such as supplying drugs to suburban areas, market and coastal towns ('county lines'). See Gang Activity Procedure.
This type of movement of children falls within the legal definition of 'trafficking' in the Modern Slavery Act 2015. Child trafficking is defined as the 'recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt' of a child for the purpose of exploitation. See Children from Abroad, including Victims of Modern Slavery, Trafficking and Exploitation Procedure.
CCE needs to be viewed in the context of broader vulnerabilities and other forms of exploitation and abuse. This could be within families, communities or more sophisticated organised crime groups. There needs to be consideration around the overlap and links between familial violence and/or criminality, trauma, peer to peer abuse, CSE, gang violence, going missing, and trafficking and modern slavery.
Particularly at risk are vulnerable children and those who do not have support networks.
Gangs and other exploiters target children with special educational needs, mental health problems or disabilities. Those exploiting children and young people also look for emotional vulnerability, such as children experiencing problems at home, absent parents or bereavement. Exploiters seek to fill that emotional gap for the child and become their 'family'.
Boys are more likely to be exploited in this way but girls are also affected. The most common age for children to be exploited is between the ages of 15 and 16 but it also affects children below the age of 11.
Gangs and other exploiters are increasingly looking to recruit 'clean skins' i.e. children with no previous criminal record who are unlikely to be stopped by the police. Often looked after children, particularly those in residential children's homes and those who have been placed out of their home area, are targeted for exploitation.
Anyone working with children and young people should be aware of the following risk indicators to help identify CCE:
- Persistently going missing from school or home and / or being found out of the area where they live;
- Unexplained acquisition of money, clothes, or mobile phones;
- Excessive receipt of texts / phone calls;
- Relationships with controlling / older individuals or groups;
- Regularly leaving their home without explanation;
- Suspicion of physical assault / unexplained injuries;
- Parental concerns;
- Carrying weapons;
- Significant decline in educational attainment and attendance;
- Arrested for possession and intent to supply of significant quantities of drugs, particularly heroin and crack cocaine;
- Arrested away from their own home area; and
- Arrested on public transport, particularly on trains.
4. Protection and Action to be Taken
It is important that practitioners are open to the fact that children and young people do not always recognise that they are being criminally exploited. They will often not wish to disclose information relating to their exploitation due to fear of repercussions and also the fear of losing the group they belong to and identify with. Similar to CSE, many children and young people are groomed by exploiters prior to the criminal exploitation occurring.
If any practitioner believes that a child or young person is at risk of, or is being criminally exploited, it is important that they report their concerns immediately, following normal safeguarding procedures.
Practitioners should also consider if the child or young person has been trafficked and consider a referral to the National Referral Mechanism.